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Lying to Protect the President and Attack Women: Virginia Republicans’ Depraved Race to the Bottom

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by Kellen Squire

Here’s an existential question for you: how does a supposedly “pro-life” politico reconcile their support for Donald Trump, given that the Republican Party’s own opposition research firm said he’d paid a number of mistresses to have abortions?

This is a tough one! Abortion is now the make or break issue for supporting Donald Trump, as these “pro-life” folks have been silent on everything from ripping families apart to putting babies in cages to gutting Medicare and Medicaid. Why, if they’re not careful, people might begin to suspect they’re just disingenuously using the issue to shame and attack women for political gain.

Faced with that, there’s only one thing to do: lie. Lie as hard and as viciously as you can, and never look back. And it needs to be called out now, because I promise as the November elections loom closer and closer, they’ll spin those lies into overdrive soon. And as a medical professional- one who has to perform abortions in the course of my job- I want to delineate just how depraved these lies have become, and will continue to be.

Last January, the Virginia House of Delegates was debating House Bill 2491. Unlikely to pass the Republican-held General Assembly, it aimed to remove some TRAP Laws- Targeted Restriction on Abortion Providers- that were not supported by evidence-based research. The biggest example we’ve had in Virginia of a TRAP law is the transvaginal ultrasound law; you know, the one that made Virginia a laughingstock a few years back. There was no need for the state to think it had to step in and force women to undergo transvaginal ultrasounds… but, then again, the lack of “evidence” in TRAP laws has long been a feature, not a bug.

Meanwhile, the Republicans’ electoral standings had been eviscerated in 2017, as they came within a stupid film canister in a ceramic bowl away from losing control of the House of Delegates. They knew the President was hanging around their neck like an albatross. And, like any animal backed into a corner, they were desperate and ready to try anything.

So they ambushed Delegate Kathy Tran- an amazing public servant from Springfield, Virginia– when she was discussing the law during session, evoking a national firestorm of controversy.

Now, I haven’t agreed with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam on a number of things during his tenure in office. His support of using eminent domain to seize private land to build new fracked gas pipelines- including a compressor station slated to be built in the middle of a historically African-American community in Buckingham County– is wholly unacceptable and inexcusable. But he went to bat for Delegate Tran, going onto a popular morning radio show shortly after the issue had flared up to try and set things straight.

On that show, the Governor got into a discussion on pediatric codes. For those of you not in the medical field, a “code” generally refers to a situation where we have to engage in immediate and extraordinary measures to save someone’s life. As a pediatric neurologist, this is sadly something that the Governor has extensive experience with. He was gently trying to explain what happens when children have conditions that are incompatible with survival.

Enter Caleb Hull. Starting his career as a self-described “freelance videographer” for “several different music festivals” (which I assume this is shorthand for “I brought my iPhone to Burning Man one time“), he managed to snag a job with Turning Point USA. For those of you who don’t know, TPUSA is the “youth” organization started by rich Republican donors ostensibly to try and make their message more hip and cool for millennials- even though their efforts are almost exclusively aimed at Boomers. But when there’s money to be fleeced, you do whatever it takes to get it done, amirite?

The powder keg was primed after the Virginia Republican Party misrepresented Delegate Tran’s comments. Todd Gilbert and Kirk Cox, the Majority Leader and Speaker of the Virginia House, held a press conference decrying “post-birth abortion” (again, a thing they made up) while desperately avoiding reporters that pointed out the current law- which both legislators were on record having supported previously- was exactly the same as what they supposedly “caught” Delegate Tran talking about.

Give Caleb credit here; he’s a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one. As a NeverTrumper pulled in by the siren song of the money and relevance the Trump Team was offering for anyone willing to sell their credibility, he knew there was a way that supporting an authoritarian, philandering, big-government President that paid mistresses to have abortions wouldn’t just be okay, it’d be everyone’s Christian duty! He just needed to give it the right nudge.

Caleb knew exactly what Governor Northam was talking about. But he also knew exactly what could happen if he lied about it- it’d bring not just sudden relevance for himself, but he could give cover to all those “principled” folks who “don’t approve of what Donald Trump is doing/has done” and needed cover to be able to vote for him anyway.

The rest is history.

A lot of you know I’m an emergency department nurse, but before I started working in the ER, I worked at the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital, in Pediatric Acute Care. UVA Children’s Hospital takes care of things that nobody else can. The years I spent there were incredible- the physicians, nurses, techs, the entire staff is second to none. And it is not easy to do what they do. As “grizzled” as I am after having spent almost a decade in the ER, I can tell you hands down that the folks that can work in Pediatrics- Acute Care, PICU, the NICU, etc- for their entire career are tougher than I will ever be.

I think Governor Northam’s biggest mistake was thinking that nobody would use what happens with those pediatric codes maliciously, for partisan gain. Honestly, I really can’t fault him for thinking nobody would be that depraved. It’s a normal human feeling. You’d think there’s some cultural touchstones we’d stay away from, like the discussion we have with a parent when their child is about to die.

I knew otherwise. I watched Sarah Palin’s “death panel” comments from a decade ago, made in response to the Affordable Care Act’s provision that insurance pay for providers to have discussions with their patients about their medical wishes. Educating patients to make an informed decision about what happens to their own bodies? Definitely anathema to the Republican Party’s values. But her comments scared politicians enough that they took that provision out of the ACA, until Senator Mark Warner and Johnny Isakson pushed to re-insert them in 2014. Instead, people suffered. Families suffered. Scarred for life.

I need everyone reading this to understand that these extreme measures we undertake are not for the faint of heart. They’re nothing like you see on “House” or “Grey’s Anatomy”. People aren’t up walking around the next day like nothing happened. First of all, the survival rate for these events is literally in the single digits- if you “code” outside a hospital, you have as low as a 5% chance of surviving. Even in the hospital, the rate is about 25%- and that’s just surviving. The number of people who go back to their “pre-code” baseline, as if nothing had ever happened, is miniscule.

Second, the things we have to put people through to get them back are downright horrific. It leaves people battered, without a shred of dignity, and- if they can feel it- in incredible, incredible pain. It’s one of the hardest things we do as medical providers, both professionally and emotionally.

And that’s for adults. Doing that with kids…

Well.

If you’ve ever felt the crack of teeny, tiny little ribs under your thumbs as you do CPR. Or (EXTREMELY GRAPHIC LINK) jammed a needle through their leg and into their bone marrow with an intraosseus insertion device. Or tried to cram a breathing tube into an impossibly small space, where the slightest trauma may have fatal consequences, in a procedure that’s insanely tough to do on full-grown adults. Or had to listen as mom and dad and the family are screaming, with no idea what’s going on, only seeing us effectively torturing their child- I mean, not even effectively. We absolutely are torturing them, knowing that in the very likely chance we don’t succeed, the last thing this child will have ever experienced- the sum total of their short life, of the time their parents and family get to spend with them- is going to be a constellation of pain beyond human comprehension.

And you know it’s all- all of it– going to be our fault.

Please believe me when I tell you from personal experience that it’s not something you forget.

Ever.

But we have a chance to try and tell parents: We don’t have to put you or your child through that. We can blunt this nightmare. It’s a tough thing to explain to people who haven’t been through it. We want to give them information, not pressure them into choosing a path. Because as hard as it is sometimes for us, we want it to be their choice- so we can do whatever our patients and their families want done for them.

Even in the best circumstances, though, this is a nearly impossible conversation to have. And these people, these so-called “pro-life” politicians and political flacks, have made it so much harder to do.

Once again, people will suffer because of it. The people who spout this rhetoric off are like a toddler with a shotgun: enormous power, no idea how to wield it, and unable (or unwilling) to care about who they hurt because of it. They only care about making an excuse for people to support Donald Trump; one that lets them delude themselves into pretending his opponents are even worse than he is.

So they can watch the destruction and hatred he sows, watch the way he is permanently undermining our country and what it was supposed to stand for, watch us cede any shred of a moral high ground or “American exceptionalism”…

…and still sleep at night, thinking “Hey!

At least I got that tax cut.”

Kellen Squire is an emergency department nurse from Charlottesville, Virginia, and current candidate for Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Support our people-powered grassroots movement to put a working-class voice into statewide office, today!